The New York Times first debated publishing a story about secret eavesdropping on Americans as early as last fall, before the 2004 presidential election.
But the newspaper held the story for more than a year and only revealed the secret wiretaps last Friday, when it became apparent a book by one of its reporters was about to break the news, according to journalists familiar with the paper's internal discussions.
"The publication was not timed to the Iraqi election, the Patriot Act debate, Jim's forthcoming book or any other event," Keller said in a statement. "We published the story when we did because after much hard work it was fully reported, checked and ready, and because, after listening respectfully to the administration's objections, we were convinced there was no good reason not to publish it."
The initial Times statements did not say that the paper's internal debate began before the Nov. 2, 2004, presidential election — in which Iraq and national security questions loomed large — or make any reference to Risen's book, due out Jan. 16.
But two journalists, who declined to be identified, said that editors at the paper were actively considering running the story about the wiretaps before Bush's November showdown with Democratic Sen. John F. Kerry of Massachusetts.
"When they realized that it was going to appear in the book anyway, that is when they went ahead and agreed to publish the story," said one of the journalists. "That's not to say that was their entire consideration, but it was a very important one of them."
The list of things the New York Times knew before the election that they didn't bother to print mounts, as we know that at least some of their reporters knew where the Valerie Plame leak came from. Salon.com puts it well when they say:
But still. When voters went to the polls in November, the New York Times knew -- but didn't tell its readers -- that the Bush administration had been lying about Scooter Libby's role in the outing of Valerie Plame. It now appears that the New York Times also knew -- but didn't tell its readers -- that the Bush administration had been spying on American citizens in violation of an act of Congress. The Times isn't alone in keeping secrets from its readers: Reporters at the Washington Post and Time magazine also knew about White House involvement in Plame's outing, for example, but chose to let Scott McClellan's denials stand through Election Day in favor of protecting their sources.
Would any of it have made a difference in November? We'll never know because journalists decided to keep the news to themselves until long after the voting was over. In the statement he released Friday, Keller said it's not the Times' "place" to "pass judgment on the legal or civil liberties questions" raised by Bush's secret spying plan. But it is the Times' place -- it is a journalist's responsibility -- to report the news, especially when that news involves the possibility that crimes were committed by the highest officials in our nation's government.